Blair sets out to earn Britain's trust

Donald Macintyre
Thursday 21 July 1994 23:02

TONY BLAIR, the new Labour leader, yesterday seized on his resounding victory as a clear mandate for a historic repositioning of the left in Britain and promised a 'new politics to take us into a new millennium'.

The eighth - and at 41, the youngest - Labour leader since the Second World War, he called for a 'crusade for change' and pledged 'unstinting service and dedication to our party and our country'.

Chosen outright with 57 per cent of the total first-ballot votes - and with John Prescott elected as his deputy - Mr Blair declared that his party spoke for the aspirations of the British people, 'North and South, young and old, haves and have-nots. Labour is the party of the majority in Britain today.'

In terms that finally buried any last vestige of 'one more heave' tactics, Labour's leading moderniser made it clear that he would use all the power of his new office to 'wage war in our party against complacency wherever it exists'. The Tories had 'lost the nation's trust', he told an audience of more than 300 MPs and activists after the leadership election results were declared in London. But he added: 'That does not mean we inherit it automatically. We have to work for it. We have to earn it.'

In a victory that dramatised the party's conversion to the non-statist, ethical socialist agenda he has set out, Mr Blair won outright in all three sections of the electoral college. After the first contest decided by a secret ballot of four million party members and union levy-payers, the leader of the engineers' union, Bill Jordan, said: 'We have seen a turning point in the history of the Labour Party.'

In the other convincing victory of the day, John Prescott, the shadow Employment Secretary, became deputy leader of the party after defeating Margaret Beckett, the incumbent and acting party leader, by 56.5 per cent to 43.5.

A delighted Mr Prescott, whose stature in the party has steadily grown since he mounted an emergency rescue of one-member, one-vote democracy with a fighting speech at last October's party conference, said of Mr Blair: 'This man has got what it takes.'

The new leader, in a speech notable for passionate rhetoric, said the challenge for the Labour Party was not 'just to show how politics matters to us but what it can do for them'. And he served notice that he would not retreat from the principles - not 'old left nor new right but new left' - he had laid out in six weeks of campaigning for the chance to become Labour's first prime minister since 1979.

These meant: a party committed to a dynamic market economy working in the public interest; choice and standards in education, but not just for the privileged few; a welfare system for 'a nation at work, not on benefit'; committed Europeanism pledged to 'restoring influence and dignity to our country'; and a decentralised constitution. 'That is the platform on which I stand,' Mr Blair declared.

Confidently talking of 'pride in our socialist values', Mr Blair insisted that his socialism would work not through some 'dry academic theory or student Marxism' but the through the practical tests of jobs, well-equipped schools, safe streets, and a health system devoted to patient care. 'A country (in which) the power of all is used for the good of each. That is what socialism means to me.'

He sought to capture the moral high ground by inisisting that under Labour ministers who lied to Parliament would resign and that he 'would expect to know' that Labour MPs asked parliamentary questions on behalf of their constituents and not for money.

The triumph of Mr Blair and Mr Prescott leaves two Shadow Cabinet vacancies, home affairs and employment, which the new leader is not expected to fill until the Shadow Cabinet elections in the autumn. Whatever his other duties, Mr Prescott seems likely to be given the task of regenerating the party organisation with a membership drive promised by Mr Blair yesterday. The defeated Mrs Beckett made it clear immediately after the election that she wanted to serve in a Blair-led administration. She is already a candidate for this autumn's elections to the National Executive and she will stand for the Shadow Cabinet.

Further plans, such as the staffing of Mr Blair's private office, have yet to be settled, though Anji Hunter, his personal assistant, is expected to stay with him.

In his own acceptance speech yesterday, Mr Prescott said Mr Blair 'commands moral authority and political respect. . . He scares the life out of the Tories.' In an unscripted addition which brought roars of laughter, Mr Prescott then added: 'And me.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- HOW LABOUR VOTED ----------------------------------------------------------------- FOR LEADER per cent Tony Blair 57 John Prescott 24.1 Margaret Beckett 18.9 FOR DEPUTY John Prescott 56.5 Margaret Beckett 43.5 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Tradition rejected 2

Prescott wins respect 3

Leading article 17

Andrew Marr 19

Conor Cruise O'Brien 19

(Photograph omitted)

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